Mark Webber admitted that his decision to hang up the helmet at the end of this year has been influenced by a dwindling desire to put in a 100 percent focused effort into Porsche’s LMP1 program.
The reigning FIA World Endurance Champion announced his retirement from driving on Thursday, marking the end of a successful three-year stint in sports car racing, although continuing with Porsche as a brand ambassador.
Speaking with assembled media during Friday’s pre-event press conference at Fuji Speedway, Webber said he had the idea of retirement in his mind around the Spa round in May, before making the decision that November’s season finale in Bahrain would be his last race.
“Life rolls along pretty quick,” Webber said. “It’s hard to do this job half-hearted. You have to really involve yourself.
“Also with the testing that’s involved and all things that come along, but the real drug, which is the racing, is what your always after. I can’t do that half-hearted.
“Individually you can maybe justify it to yourself, but you can never ever justify it to the team environment. If you can’t have the passion and motivation to go to [Motorland] Aragon at 3 a.m… These type of things obviously add up and I want to be very fair to Porsche and everyone involved.
“I’ve seen a lot of movies in my mind, both very positive and some rather tricky situations in my career. But overall I’m immensely proud to have had great people around me throughout my career.”
The 40-year-old Australian, who has seven career WEC wins, said that he had a weight off his shoulders when the announcement was made on Thursday evening, in Fuji.
Webber told members of his team of the news earlier in the day.
“Even personally, last night I went to bed and I said finally it’s done, I’m now committed, I have to do it. The response has been phenomenal,” he said.
While having won the World Championship last year, Webber will bring an end to his career without having claimed victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, after five previous attempts, including two outings with Mercedes in 1998-99.
The ex-Red Bull F1 ace admits the French endurance classic will be one of his strongest memories in his racing career.
“Le Mans is a pretty intense race,” Webber said. “Driving these type of cars at night is something very dramatic, very intense, sexy. The car is on the edge the track is on the edge.
“It’s something which I’ll always remember doing and particularly this year was a tremendous race. You saw the level of competition that was on display this year, it was great for the category.
“The results that we’ve had… There have been a lot of victories against all odds. That passion that we’ve had to get the most out of the car each weekend has been extremely rewarding.”
Webber credits co-driver Timo Bernhard for helping him with the transition from F1 in 2014, after joining the German manufacturer with only limited prior sports car racing experience.
“[Timo’s] a very professional as a endurance driver, and very experienced,” he said. “It’s been very good for me to have Timo in my car.
“Also Brendon [Hartley], who was a bit rough around the edges in the first year, but now he’s one of the best in the world. He’s a phenomenally rounded sports car driver. To be involved and seeing that unfold…
“The competition we’ve had has also been great, the Audi and Toyota drivers, it’s been all in the true spirit of what we expect in this championship.”
While continuing with Porsche in an ambassador and consolatory role, Webber has effectively ruled out any future one-off outings behind the wheel of a race car.
His contract with Porsche would limit him to Weissach-built cars, which realistically gives him options in GT racing only.
“I already had a few of interesting emails,” he said. “At the moment I say it’s incredibly unlikely.
“It would need to be in a Porsche. I have a close affinity with the brand and that will continue for a while.
“I can’t imagine what type of racing I could do. I would be very unlikely to do something in GT.
“Having had the Formula One career I had and driving the 919, the fastest cars in the world, everything after that will be not the same.
“It’s not arrogant position, I’ve just been extremely fortunate to drive some very fast cars.
“The threshold of probably a high frustration level, feeling quite bad and slow in cars which I don’t have any experience in. So why would I put myself through that?
“When you make this decision as a racing driver… Sometimes I’ve been in the car this year and I asked myself why am I doing this? That’s why you come to these decisions.
“It’s a drug, which you have to slowly come off. I accept that it’s going to be difficult for me. It’s not all upside. There will be some things which will be challenging.”
Vincent Wouters contributed to this report